A decade ago, I was working as a qualified Dispensing Optician but found myself at a crossroads in my career. I was working at my local Specsavers branch in Leicester, life was good, I enjoyed my work, liked my colleagues, my bosses were very supportive, and it was lovely to be serving the local community where I was born and bred.
However, there was something missing. I felt I wanted more. I asked myself ‘Which direction do I progress my career?’ I thought I knew my options; I could progress clinically and academically via the contact lens optician (CLO) or optometrist routes or I could go down the management route.
I chose the academic route, going onto complete my CLO qualification but after a year or so later, I found myself back at those same crossroads. At this stage the choice was easy, I had enough of studying, revision and exams and wanted to help lead. While I still enjoyed working in clinics, I feel I wanted to make a difference outside of the test room.
I looked at my directors as role models and told them I thought about owning my own practice. They were open to discussion and we discussed the life of a joint venture partner and how the demands of the role far outweigh the financial security, job satisfaction and work-life balance. I too wanted this for my family.
So my journey to directorship began. I knew I wanted to remain with Specsavers as they had trained and supported me so far. I did look into the pros and cons of looking at other multiples or independents, but felt I wanted to remain with the best fit for me.
I’m grateful my directors fully supported me attending Pathway – training workshops designed to increase my skills in management techniques, decision making, financial analysis, action planning, managing change and overcoming challenges.
These courses, my experience coming up through the ranks, and some humbling references from my peers helped get onto the list of approved candidates eligible for a directorship.
At this stage, there were many factors to consider personally when looking at opportunities. Would I be willing to move with my wife and newborn son? Would I have the necessary finances to invest? Did I want a new store or to join an existing one?
I declined opportunities where I felt it was beyond my finances and bided my time until the right one came along.
Then the Telford store was put to me. I would need to relocate but to a great opportunity and I would go in with a fellow new joint-venture partner. The store, established 23 years ago, had directors who had their thoughts on retirement.
This was the opportunity that I was looking for. The step up from being an employee to becoming a Specsavers joint venture partner co-owning the business was certainly a journey but I have never looked back. I enjoyed the challenges of the transition to having financial and social responsibilities and managing colleagues and thankfully overcame any issues with the support of my fellow directors.
Additionally, the basis for any successful business is a great partnership. I needed to ensure that my partner and I can work closely to make this store a success. My fellow director and I are the same age with very similar backgrounds – but would we get on? Would we complement another and be diverse enough to be a good team? We talked lots and found what bound us – the hunger to succeed and very similar ideas for the store’s future.
All my boxes were ticked and by January 2014 I had the store keys in my hand as an owner.
Fast forward five years and what a journey it has been. We have moved premises and tripled the size of the practice, we have state of the art technology, and a flourishing committed team. Together, we have achieved many things. Academically, we have helped train ten optometrists and 3 dispensing opticians. Our Optometrists are all MECS accredited and have achieved further certifications in Medical retina and Glaucoma. In turn they get so much out of supervising two pre-registration Optometrists a year, and currently we have one trainee CLO and four employees on the route to dispensing and five apprentices.
Our newly-installed OCT can give us an added clinical dimension to our services in addition to the contact lens and audiology services we already offer. Our store is a flagship store for clinical training and excellence and we are so proud to have to piloted many new products and systems than go into the group’s other 800-plus locations.
In hindsight, I may have done some things differently, but life is not a fairy tale and we learn from these moments. Would I change my decision to become a director? That’s a big fat ‘No!’. The personal support I have from Specsavers teams nationally is above and beyond. We have the continued support both nearby stores, from the regional team and from our support offices. Tax, accounting, legal and HR advice, buying power, IT, marketing and insurance services are all looked after at a low- cost but high quality – so I can concentrate on our customers and colleagues.
The partnership with my optometrist director has gone from strength to strength. We still have the same goals and work ethic, we support each other through all processes and will continue to do so.
When I look back to those cross roads, I am pleased with the route I chose. There are stresses and hard work but this is overcome by the level of support from our support office and the satisfaction of seeing the team and store develop is topped off by being able to help our local community.
My work life balance is great, I now have two lively young boys (that drive me nuts) and a very supportive wife and family who can all enjoy the successes that come with being a director.
I love my team and it is a joy to walk into store and be able to have so many employees that I can consider friends and be a support pillar for. I’m very proud of their achievements and its hugely satisfying, in particular with the younger team members to see them flourish from nervous or naïve teens to confident, knowledgeable and career focussed individuals. Like, Jack, our 18-year-old trainee optical assistant has been with us since leaving college when he decided to turn his weekend job into a full-time position. He aspires to a career in optics and has made an amazing start. We will continue to support him through his journey – we were all so proud when he bought his first car with his wages.
Or like Henna, our apprentice lab tech has made great progress and is nearing the end of her qualification. She has just paid for herself and her family to go on holiday.
I hope that they can look up to us as role models just as I did.
Rizwaan Makda FBDO CL
- Contact Lens Optician, MECS qualified
- Director at Telford and Newport Shropshire
- ABDO trainee examiner
- Leicester City Supporter
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